Cunninghams account of his experience within
Sinn Fein is replete with the type of vignettes which
form a pastiche of severe internal party authoritarianism.
But procedural issues alone have not formed the basis
of either his critique or his disillusionment. Of
equal concern is the working out of the GFA and the
leaderships handling of international issues and the
only has the GFA not reached Kilkeel, civil rights
have not even reached Kilkeel, as is clear from
the beating of a nationalist by a loyalist gang
outside a pub. The police were informed of the identities
of the mob responsible but not a thing has occurred
since. It is the Good Friday Disagreement. It was
a great idea at the time. But looking back at how
the Brits and Ahern have handled it I think it was
a strategy to defeat the IRA. It was built on a
very, very rocky foundation. Sinn Fein has walked
felt that his day-to-day political life was bringing
him into conflict with the party hierarchy and that
he was being targeted for coming up with ideas that
no longer suited.
attitude was this boy is not a good one.
I was told at one stage that I was being too hard
in Kilkeel, because I opposed the idea of putting
up Christmas trees alongside UVF flags. I argued
that these flags should come down. Their attitude
was more or less let them fly their UVF flags. The
more that radical issues were raised the less the
leadership were prepared to support me. UVF flags
still fly in Kilkeel. I was putting it up to the
police over this. Maybe I was getting too much publicity.
within the party when it accepted the agreement recall
Jim Gibney telling a public meeting that from the
perspective of republicans the best place for it was
the bin. And we also recall Gerry Kelly claim it was
a transition to a transition. But Sinn
Fein have since invested a lot if its energy and credibility
in the Good Friday Agreement, and it is now virtually
impossible for the leadership to admit is was all
a nonsense. How could it admit that it accepted the
British states alternative to republicanism?
often talk about this Stakeknife character and I
am forced to ask myself is there a Stakeknife in
the middle of all this because of the way they are
going and the direction they are heading. The GFA
is not working. The Brits had a Plan B and we didnt.
And the Brits Plan B was to ensure that it
never worked. Bertie Ahern facilitated this by being
a very junior partner in the whole thing. Gerry
Adams and Martin McGuinness are very committed people
but they have had the wool pulled over their eyes
and they cant admit it to their people. They
have decommissioned their weapons, the war is over
even if they wont admit it. And the leadership
is now determined to beat its own people into submission.
does he account for republicanism going belly-up?
Has the leadership lost the run of itself? What now
ego, power a mixture of all three. They enjoy
being welcomed in the States, Australia and other
countries. I remember seeing Gerry Adams on TV discussing
Michael Collins and whatever error of judgement
Collins had made Gerry said that he would never have
made that mistake. Surely a man of his capability
couldnt let becoming the most popular party
leader in the country go to his head or could
he? If Adams is such a big egotist - I dont
know - is it this that prevents him from being honest
with the party and telling them that he has done
much worse than Michael Collins. The party has been
sold a pup with three legs.
setting aside its major flip-flop on partition, Stormont
and national unity, could the argument not still be
made that the party retains its radical soul and has
only made necessary strategic compromises? Is Sinn
Fein not still a radical party, even if in terms of
gas and water socialism? Fundamentally, is it a party
of the left or right?
heading right. Not a radical party. They were on
the middle and have now moved to the right. In the
next couple of elections Sinn Fein will make gains
but at the rate which Sinn Fein are getting rid
of republicans it will lead to a drop. The SDLP
are making more republican speeches than Sinn Fein.
Take the Greens, they are far to the left of Sinn
Fein on a wide range of issues. They are actually
more radical than Sinn Fein.
then did he think of the attitude of the Sinn Fein
leadership to the war on Iraq and the Palestinian
Gerry Adams said it all by shaking hands with George
Bush. That could never have happened 15 years ago.
He was away in America launching books and whatever
else and he had the perfect opportunity to speak
out against the war in Iraq and the treatment of
prisoners in Guantanomo Bay. What purpose does Adams
going to the States serve if he does not raise the
issues that republicans should be raising.
expressed the view that, from a radical perspective,
one honourable course of action for the Sinn Fein
president to have pursued in the situation he chose
to be in at Hillsborough was to have treated Bush
in the manner Bernadette McAliskey did when she confronted
Reginald Maudling after the Bloody Sunday murders;
then walk out, align himself firmly with the Global
Justice Movement and offer leadership to progressive
and radical forces throughout the world. But it was
never going to happen like that. Not because Adams
lacked the personal courage to do so but because the
political choices he had made effectively precluded
any such course. Once he and Martin McGuinness had
embarrassingly participated in a Mexican wave for
Bill Clinton in Belfast after the then US president
had armed the Israelis so that the latter could more
efficiently murder the Palestinians, they had effectively
told the world, whatever side of the mouth they spoke
from, what actual side of the great global divide
the Sinn Fein leadership stood on.
was down at an ard fheis a number of years ago and
there was a Palestinian man up speaking. And it
would have brought tears to the eyes. But he was
only there as a sideshow to give some radical cover.
They havent really spoken out about the Palestinians.
They arent really interested because it may
affect their relationship with the great white leader
George Bush. At the end of the day they are jumping
to George Bushs tune all the time. It is an
embarrassment. We had Davy Hyland leading a rally
in Newry and genuinely speaking out against the
war in Iraq but then we had the leadership down
not only hugging trees but hugging George Bush.
How humiliating does it get?
Martin Cunningham, the party leadership not only lets
itself down on the international front as a consequence
of kow-towing to the dominant capitalist power, but
also the manner in which it allows itself to be used
by the White House for nothing in return is all too
evident in the administrations attitude towards
other party activists at home.
are a lot of ex-prisoners on the councils who cant
go anywhere. People such as Charley Casey are not
allowed into the States. He is the second most prominent
person on Newry City Council. Yet the leadership
seem to have made no effort to get him in.
of the public pressure on Sinn Fein lately has been
as a result of its attitude to the policing question.
Have the police transformed sufficiently enough for
Sinn Fein to now support them?
mess Sinn Fein are in over the Bobby Tohill affair
will lead to them joining the police, but not because
the police have changed. I think this is why they
are getting rid of republicans like myself. They
want to make it easier to support the police. They
are getting rid of republicans who will oppose the
police. The police are still the first line of defence
for the state of Northern Ireland. It sounds as
if Sinn Fein wants to change Sinn Fein rather than
changing the police. The chairman of the new cumann
wouldnt join us at one stage and said we were
a shower of bastards who would end up
supporting the police. Now he is saying for the
public to go to the police. They will all sit on
the policing board together and maybe the police
and Sinn Fein can hug trees together. But I think
Sinn Fein really want to move away from the tress
and start hugging the special branch.
inquired if he was still a supporter of the Adams
leadership. He stated that he retains a lot of time
and respect for many people currently in the party
including some who work at senior level. He felt that
Martin McGuinness was personally very humble and showed
great sensitivity. He doesnt intend to be a
thorn in the leaderships side although he accepts
that his voiced opposition probably makes that unavoidable.
I still see myself as a republican. It is not
the Sinn Fein I joined. I havent left Sinn Fein,
Sinn Fein have left me.
Did he believe that a united Ireland would emerge
he even see it in his life time?
cant see it happening I dont think Sinn
Fein want it any longer. They are happy in the six
county state having the power. In the south they
will enter into some dodgy arrangement with Fianna
Fail. Sinn Fein are happily entrenched in Stormont.
A lot of people died to bring it down but Sinn Fein
more than anybody else want to put it together again
on terms more suitable to the Brits than republicans.
And the thing is, there are elements who would kill
other republicans to make it happen again.
admits to being totally disillusioned with the party.
He looks at good republicans who have
served time in prison and who are now being got rid
of to make way for people who before the ceasefire
would not even talk to us on the street because
we were in Sinn Fein. Now Mitchel McLaughlin comes
down and tells them to sell a few tickets to free
Ireland. It is now that the more tickets you sell
and money you raise the better republican you are.
intends to carry on representing the people he was
elected by. Sinn Fein could hardly ask him to stand
down given that they took Billy Leonard in without
asking him to give up the council seat he won while
a member of another party.
will not be standing down for Sinn Fein. The people
of the constituency put me there. 50% of my council
business is on behalf of the Protestant community.
Protestants have told me that I am the man
who gets things done round here. If they want
me to go they can elect somebody else. But no dictator
is going to come along and tell me that I will step
aside because he rather than the people decide it.
was a strange irony to see a republican leaving the
party around the same time that a former cop was coming
in. It merely led me to speculate that neither man
had really changed over the years. Only Sinn Fein
had. When all the rhetoric is set to the side and
the smoke and mirrors are allowed to fade away, the
testimony of republican activists like Martin Cunningham
serves as a serious indictment of a leadership that
bullied, misled, lied and duped in a bid to conceal
just how complicit it was in cooperating with the
British to strip republicanism of its essence
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